As Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry works to refocus his campaign, the Massachusetts Senator is turning to a band of House Members who will fan out across the country on his behalf.
Kerry has reached out to a host of leading House Democrats in an effort to expand their roles as surrogates and to encourage them to hit the stump for him in key battleground states. While many Members have been helping Kerry out for months, these lawmakers are stepping up their efforts during the final weeks of the election.
House Members and the Kerry campaign alike said it makes sense to use House Democratic lawmakers on the stump, given their geographical, ethnic and ideological diversity. Many are blessed with safe seats this cycle, meaning they can afford to lend Kerry some of their time.
“Members can validate a very effective Senate career and what will be a very effective presidential career,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) of his work to stump for Kerry in such states as New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Ohio.
Dozens of House Members — including the Massachusetts delegation, party leaders and Members with ties to key Democratic constituency groups — are coming forward to serve as Kerry surrogates.
Those lawmakers are being asked to travel, to do press events, to call key donors and constituents, to deliver speeches and to make sure Democratic voters get to the polls on Nov. 2. In September alone, House Members will make more than 50 appearances across the country on behalf Kerry. Those lawmakers will hit key states from Ohio, Arizona and Pennsylvania to New Mexico and Florida, according to the Kerry campaign.
“In general, Members know how to deliver a message and bring credibility and expertise on key issues, so they are great validators,” said a senior Kerry campaign aide. “And in their districts, Members can provide a ‘Good Housekeeping seal of approval.’
“Most of all,” the aide added, “they can help generate local news coverage on their own while Kerry and Edwards are hitting other battleground states.”
Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said he, like other House leaders including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), will serve dual purposes as they travel the country: They’ll work to elect Kerry, and to help the party take back the House.
Menendez recently returned from New Mexico, where he stumped for the Kerry campaign. He already has plans to tour Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Illinois for the candidate. Menendez, a prominent Hispanic Member, said he can fill a key role encouraging support for Kerry among Hispanics.
“You have an opportunity with [House Members], drawing on their talent, intellect and special skills, to communicate and help Kerry succeed,” Menendez said. “It’s one of the most powerful tools the Kerry campaign has.”
Hoyer said he will also lend some of his campaign time to joining Kerry in such key states as Pennsylvania, Washington, Arizona and New Mexico.
“House leaders have been closely coordinating with the Kerry campaign for several months,” Hoyer said. “That coordination will only intensify in the last weeks before the election.”
“It is critical we are all on the same team and that we’re not going in five different directions,” added Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), an early Kerry backer who has been traveling throughout his home state as well as next-door New York. Pascrell is finalizing plans to hit Ohio and Louisiana in the coming weeks for the Massachusetts Senator.
On the GOP side, officials see the use of House surrogates as a sign the Kerry campaign is floundering.
“Clearly, John Kerry has been very unsuccessful delivering his message to people,” said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Now, it would make sense he’s looking to surrogates to do it for him. I’m not sure they’ll have more success than he did.”
Members said they will not only be delivering Kerry’s core message on security, economy, health care and education but also working to convince voters that the country needs a change in direction.
They also will be working on get-out-the-vote efforts throughout the country, recognizing that polls suggest that Kerry’s chances of winning are greatest if turnout levels are strong.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a key Kerry surrogate, said he will be “traveling wherever he asks me to travel.” Cummings said he already has plans to go with Kerry to several battleground states, where he will encourage black Americans to register and vote in November.
Cummings said he can fill a unique role for Kerry in reaching out to black voters. Polls indicate that wide majorities of black voters support Kerry — so making sure blacks are motivated to go to the polls has become a key goal for the Kerry campaign.
“I am going to do everything in my power to get Kerry elected,” Cummings said. “I am dealing with it as if my life and the generation’s of lives yet unborn depended on his victory — because they do.”
The Kerry-Edwards ticket has lost ground in recent polls to President Bush, due to independent ads questioning his service in Vietnam and a generally successful Republican convention.
Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), a longtime Kerry friend and supporter, said he too will be stepping up his traveling on behalf of Kerry, including trips through the Northeast and Florida. He said that even though Kerry appears to be behind, he has a reputation for pulling out a victory in the end.
“We’re in the red zone, and I think we all recognize that,” he said.